Week 17 if full of must-win games. Four teams are locked into the playoffs in the AFC leaving the Ravens, Titans, Chargers and Bills competing for the two Wild Card spots. In the NFC, we know five of the postseason participants with the Falcons and Seahawks battling for the sixth seed. Each of these teams need a victory (and help) in the final week of the regular season to make the playoffs. Can bettors profit off of these must-win games?
In the Bet Labs database, there is no filter for “must-win” games, but for the purpose of this article we will look at teams with a winning percentage between 50% and 67% entering Week 17. This would give us teams with records ranging from 7-7-1 to 10-5, which would likely encompass teams fighting for a playoff berth or a division title.
Since 2003, teams in must-win games during Week 17 have gone 56-68-4 (45.2%) ATS. It appears bettors overvalue playoff motivation. Historically, the public has also overvalued home field advantage. Teams playing at home in must-win Week 17 games have gone 31-42-2 (42.5%) ATS since 2003. A simple betting strategy is fading the public, must-win Week 17 games provide another opportunity for contrarian bettors.
A 75 game sample isn’t huge but our trend holds if we expand the system to include games in Weeks 15 and 16. In the final three weeks of the regular season, betting against home teams in must-win games has gone 116-84-5 (58.0%) ATS. A $100 bettor would have returned a profit of $2,784 following this system since 2003.
Games that match in Week 17
Panthers at Falcons: Atlanta needs a win to make the playoffs and opened as 3-point favorites at home, but Carolina will be highly motivated as well. The Panthers can finish no worse than the 5th seed in the NFC but a win and a loss by the Saints would give Cam & Co. the NFC South title.
Jaguars at Titans: Tennessee has lost three straight but can make the playoffs with a win over Jacksonville. The Titans opened as 6-point favorites. The Jags have nothing to play for, though the team could be motivated to redeem itself after an embarrassing 44-33 loss to the Niners.
Bengals at Ravens: Win and you’re in. If Baltimore gets by Cincy (6-9) the Ravens will return to the postseason for the first time since 2014. Joe Flacco is listed as a 10-point favorite over his AFC North rival. The Bengals are unmotivated, but they managed to beat the Lions, a team with everything to play for, last week.
Raiders at Chargers: L.A. needs a win and help to make the playoffs after an 0-4 start. The Chargers are favored by 8-points at home against a Raiders team playing for pride. Oakland should have covered against Philly on Monday night but a fumble returned for a touchdown as time expired hosed bettors. Here’s hoping for a different outcome.
Cardinals at Seahawks: Seattle has to win and have Atlanta lose to keep its five-year playoff streak alive. As 7.5-point favorites a win seems likely, but that could be too many points against a division rival.